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Director, Alice Hamilton Interview: “A growing issue is ensuring that the very best artists are available to people wherever they live, whoever they are.”

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Alice Hamilton is co-Artistic Director of Up in Arms Theatre. She is best known for her collaborations with Barney Norris, all of whose plays to date – including Eventide, Visitors, and While We’re Here – she has premiered. She recently directed David Storey’s The March on Russia at the Orange Tree Theatre to critical acclaim.

Anything That Flies is a Jermyn Street production and directed by Hamilton. Set in London in 1991, Judith Burnley’s new play is about a German carer who arrives to look after an elderly Jewish immigrant. The play examines the lives of refugees and people who see themselves as ‘citizens of nowhere’. “Anything That Flies is a touching and warm-hearted study of human frailty set against the backdrop of post-war Europe,” says Hamilton. “It explores questions of identity, culpability and what it really means to belong to a place. Not to mention the in-depth social commentary on the function and origins of Pooh Sticks…”

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Alice Hamilton

For Anything That Flies, starring Clive Merrison and Issy Van Randwick, Hamilton is relishing being able to work with such a talented duo. “It’s been a real privilege to work on this play with them. The play’s socio-historic context – as well as its status as new writing – have sent us on a fairly rigorous and intense process of excavation, and it has been hugely gratifying to embark on this with two such engaged and enquiring minds.”

Hamilton is serious too about the importance of preparation for any director. “The number of hours put in before rehearsals is directly proportionate to the hours of productivity within the rehearsal room,” she says. “That basic groundwork enables your rehearsal room antennae, and gives you the freedom to be receptive and spontaneous without the constant anxiety that you are playing catch-up.”

What are her top tips for emerging directors? “I’ve benefited from a few ideas I’ve tried to stick to,” says Hamilton who has advanced by finding collaborators that she could work with. “That was something Max Stafford-Clark stressed as important for young directors – to identify the interesting writers of their own generation, and go on the journey with them.”

In recent years, she has collaborated with Barney Norris, they formed Up in Arms as a touring theatre company after meeting through Salisbury Playhouse’s Stage 65 youth theatre. What, I wonder, makes their partnership so fruitful? “Barney and I have a shared frame of reference – both social and theatrical – having grown up in the same part of Wiltshire,” she says. “This has informed all our collaborations up to this point, and, I think, is central to our identity as a company and we only make work we’re deeply passionate about, and I hope that means what we do is exciting to audiences – it’s always exciting to us.”

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Alice Hamilton (L) with Barney Norris (R)

She says of Norris’s writing: “He is a very honest writer: he writes from the heart about people and places he knows intimately – or has come to know – and is deeply committed to shedding light on the lives of those whom other writers and artists seem to overlook.”

Despite increasing pressures on the public purse, it is a rich time for theatrical risk-taking– as witnessed all over the country. But what are her biggest concerns for regional theatre? “Regional theatre is really a lot of different theatre scenes; there are so many interlocking patterns… A growing issue I’m aware of is ensuring that the very best artists are available to people wherever they live, whoever they are,” she says.

She continues, “In recent years there seems to have been a movement away from artist-led, mobile companies towards buildings –  meaning that there is less of a culture of brilliant actors throwing everything aside to hit the road with a particular director or company. This is all very well for the people with postcodes where there are beautiful thriving buildings – but there are communities we’ve visited for whom there just isn’t the same access to quality work now, and that’s something I think needs to be addressed.”

Hamilton has relished going places that others haven’t by “doing plays in ways no one else has thought of and developing new stories other people aren’t telling” and that excites her.

That is why Hamilton is so pleased to be directing a play at Jermyn Street during the inaugural season as a producing theatre. “It’s a bold and really exciting move, and very welcome for a theatre of that size in that location –  I feel very lucky to be involved in its maiden season! It will be exciting to watch it start to develop its own identity over the coming years.”

Anything that Flies is at the Jermyn Street theatre, until 11 November. Box office: 020-7287 2875.